Politics

Russia Begins Production Of World’s Largest Helicopter

The manufacturer of the world’s most powerful heavy transport helicopter has announced that an updated version is now in production.

Russian Helicopters Corp. announced that it has now started producing the Mi-26T2. The second edition of the heavy transport helicopter is expected to generate strong demand from around the world, according to RT.

Russia Begins Production Of World's Largest Helicopter

Russian Helicopters starts production of the Mi-26T2

“We announce the start-up of production of the modernized heavy helicopter Mi-26T2 serial production. Helicopters of Mi-26 family have unequalled characteristics, and their modernization considerably expands the potential of this aircraft,” said Russian Helicopters CEO Andrey Shibitov.

Manufacturing helicopters capable of transporting heavy duty payloads is an incredibly challenging task for aircraft designers, but Shibitov claims that Russia has “colossal and unique experience” in the field. He predicts strong demand for the Mi-26T2 both in the domestic Russian market and around the world.

The first generation Mi-26 Soviet-Russian heavy transport helicopter is the largest and most powerful that has ever been serially produced. From 1980 onward there have been 316 of the machines produced in Russia, and they have been used for both military and civilian deployments.

Impressive technical specifications

The arrival of the next generation Mi-26T2 brings a raft of improvements that make the craft suitable for a wider range of applications. Its maximum takeoff mass is 56 tons, and the machine can fly 800 kilometers on one tank of fuel, at a top speed of 295 kilometers per hour. A fuel-efficient version can fly at a top speed of 255 kilometers per hour.

Its nearest rival for the crown of the world’s most powerful helicopter is the American Sikorsky CH-53E, which has an external load capability of 16 tons. By comparison, the Mi-26T2 boasts a payload capability of 20 tons, and further modernization may enable an increase in capability to 25 tons.

Basic flight tests were first passed in 2010-11, and the Mi-26T2 made its first public appearance at the MAKS-2011 air show. The aircraft are assembled at a Rosvertol factory in Rostov-on-Don, in the south of Russia.

Updated version capable of night flights

The previous model could not be flown at night, but the Mi-26T2 can be operated 24 hours a day and includes special night flight equipment. Other improvements include better avionics and modern navigation controls which come with a suite of five displays. Such innovations mean that designers have been able to reduce the necessary crew from 5 to 3 members, although the machine can be operated with just two pilots on board if necessary.

Avionics were developed by the OJSC Ramenskoe Instrument Design Bureau (RKPB), a subsidiary of KRET. Potential uses for the helicopter include troop and heavy equipment transportation. Up to 82 troops and their combat gear can be transported at once, and the helicopter is also capable of lifting heavyweight combat vehicles.

The Mi-26T2 can also be adapted for use as an air ambulance capable of carrying up to 60 wounded people. Other configurations include fire-fighting, fuel delivery, construction and installation.

Following an initial demonstration in 2012, the Algerian Air Force agreed a deal for 6 Mi-26T2s under a $2.7 billion contract in March 2014. Early this year, two of their number were assembled for export and will be delivered to Algeria after testing.

Russia’ planned military modernization causes alarm in the West

The helicopter is not the only military innovation to come out of Russia in recent months. Moscow recently unveiled its new T-14 Armata tank, which commentators claim is one of the most technologically advanced in the world. However the tank did not perform very well on one of its first public outings, appearing to break down during a rehearsal for the huge Victory Day parade in the Russian capital.

Both new machines are part of a planned modernization of Russia’s armed forces which has seen Moscow put aside huge sums of money for military use. Whether or not these grandiose plans come to fruition remains to be seen, due to the impact of international sanctions and the falling price of oil on Russia’s economy.

Despite economic uncertainty, the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin continue to cause alarm in the West, with tensions between the U.S. and Russia reaching their lowest point since the Cold War. A series of Russian military drills near NATO member territory, and regular airspace intrusions by Russian warplanes, have sparked fears that a misunderstanding or a crash could lead to the beginning of an accidental war.

Moscow also continues to cause mischief in international relations, initiating closer relations with Greece and North Korea, as well as negotiating a series of agreements aimed at increasing Russia’s influence in Latin America.